Why Does My Fridge Smell?

And how to stop it!

We keep a lot of different kinds of food in the fridge, and it doesn’t take much – a spillage, some forgotten food, or just lingering odours from something strong that you stored in there – to leave a lasting and unpleasant smell. Figuring out what causes those smells can be tricky, and getting rid of them can be even harder. Here’s a quick look at some of the most common causes of smelly fridges, and how to beat them.

open fridge full of food

Why Does My Fridge Smell?

There are many reasons your fridge might smell, and some of them are more concerning than others.

If your fridge smells like ammonia…

…There’s a good chance the fridge is leaking the toxic gas ammonia. Leave the house and get a technician around to look at the fridge as soon as possible.

If your fridge smells like nail polish remover…

…This is another sign that the chemicals within it are leaking – specifically Freon. Freon is generally harmless (at least in the amounts you risk inhaling from a leaking refrigerator) but if it’s leaked, your fridge won’t be working, so you will need to get a specialist in to look at it.

That said, bear in mind that Freon is rarely used in modern refrigerators (while it’s not very harmful to us, it is very bad for the ozone layer) so if your fridge is reasonably new and it smells like nail polish remover, there’s a good chance something else is to blame.

If your fridge smells like fish…

  • A problem with the fan
  • A failed compressor
  • A burnt start up relay and overload sensor

Most of the time, however, those bad smells aren’t the result of a problem with your fridge, or parts of it. Generally when fridges smell bad they simply need a good clean.

The most common things that make fridges smell are forgotten, rotten foods (have you checked the back of the vegetable drawer?) and the drip pan. If you find that your fridge smells even though it looks clean, then the most likely culprit is the drip pan. This is located at the bottom of the fridge, just above the condenser coils.

dirty refrigerator coils

Refrigerator Coils

It is supposed to collect and release condensation, but if you leave it unattended for long enough the water in it will go stagnant, and start to smell. If it gets dirty, it becomes the perfect breeding ground for mould.

If you want to eliminate odours in the fridge then you need to not just clean the parts of the fridge that you can see, but also deodorize the drip pan, and throw out any smelly foods in the fridge – note that dairy products – especially things like butter – tend to absorb the odours that they are exposed to, and mould can spread quickly once it takes hold in your fridge, so it may be worth throwing out any fresh foods and any opened containers of food as a part of the cleaning process.

How to Get Rid of the Smell in Your Fridge

If you want to stop your fridge smelling, you should clear it out thoroughly and leave no opportunity for the smell to return. There’s no point mopping up a spill and spritzing a mouldy area with a cleaning solution if you are going to leave the rest of the fridge alone, because even a few spores or a small patch of spilled food left in a corner can quickly become a problem again.

So, the first thing you should do to remove smells from your fridge is clear it out, thoroughly. Inspect all the food in the fridge and throw out anything that has spoiled or picked up bad odours from the fridge itself. Put the food that you want to keep in a cool box, and take out the shelves and drawers, so you can clean the fridge thoroughly. Put anything that has a strong flavour or odour to it (spicy foods, for example) in airtight containers.

empty fridge

Once you have compeletely emptied the fridge, clean the shelves and drawers, wipe down the seal of the fridge itself, and thoroughly clean the interior.

How to Clean a Fridge

Rinse the drawers and shelves in the baking soda solution, and then wipe down the inside of the fridge as well, making sure not to miss the corners. Next, find the drip pan – this is usually located behind a grill or panel. Remove the panel and empty the pan, then clean and deodorize it. This is one part of the cleaning process that you will want to use bleach for. Us a pipe cleaner to thoroughly clean the drain hole, because this can sometimes get clogged up with food or mineral residue.

If there are any stubborn bits of food stuck to the inside of the fridge, you can remove them by spraying a little WD-40 on them, then wiping it away with a soft rag. Be sure to thoroughly wash away the WD-40 before you restock the fridge with food.

Once you have finished cleaning the fridge, pour some baking soda onto a baking tray and leave that in the fridge for a few hours to soak up any residual odours and dampness. Throw out the baking soda when you are done.

What if your empty fridge still smells?

If you’ve thoroughly cleaned the fridge and condenser coil, and you know that leaking refrigerants or electrical faults aren’t to blame, try moving your fridge out of position. There’s a good chance something underneath or behind the fridge is responsible for that bad smell.

Stopping Fridge Smells From Coming Back

  • Now you have a nice clean and fresh smelling fridge, your next challenge is to keep it that way. Here are a few tips to help with that:
    • When you put food back into the fridge, take care not to over-fill it. Over-crowding makes it easy to miss food that is going off.
    • Keep fresh and highly perishable foods that you’re likely to forget about in places where they’re visible, instead of putting them into drawers.
    • Store leftovers in airtight containers, and label the containers so that you know which ones to use first.
    • If you can’t put food in an airtight container, use a Ziploc bag or wrap them in cling film – don’t use paper towels or cardboard containers, because these wrappers are porous, and make it easier for odours to spread.
    • Keep the fridge smelling fresh by soaking a cotton ball in vanilla extract and leaving it in the fridge. Keep a box of baking soda in there too, because this will soak up moisture and unpleasant odours.
    • If you have a power cut, try not to open the door to your fridge or freezer. The appliances are well insulated, and will keep things cold for a fairly long time if you keep them shut. Opening them unnecessarily will make them warm up more quickly, and make it more likely that the food in them will spoil.
  • Once your fridge is odour free, be sure to keep it that way by sticking to a regular routine cleaning and emptying routine.

    Is your fridge past its best? View our selection of freestanding, integrated and mini fridges here. We also stock fridge freezers and standalone freezers.

    For more information on fridges, read our other guides:

    Why is My Fridge Leaking Water?

    How to Dispose of a Fridge

    How to Choose a Fridge

    5th May 2016 Ship It Appliances Ltd

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